The proposed highway use tax projected to generate $275,000 next year died in a stalemate among Amsterdam Town Board members Wednesday night.
Town Supervisor Tom DiMezza proposed the tax, which would have been collected from town property owners and funneled directly into Highway Department accounts, as a measure to balance the town’s tentative $4.1 million 2013 budget.
In a vote to schedule the public hearing necessary before implementing the new tax, the board was evenly split, with DiMezza and Kenneth J. Krutz voting to schedule a Nov. 21 hearing, Terry Bieniek and Bart Tessiero voting against any meeting, and Alexander Kuchis absent. With no hearing scheduled, discussions on a town highway tax are effectively at an end.
“I would at least have liked to hear the people on this one,” DiMezza said.
The tax would have allowed the highway department to buy new snow removal equipment, repair a few sections of old road and take some financial pressure off the town. With the new tax off the table, though, DiMezza will have to cut the tentative budget to approximately $3.9 million before the board’s Monday workshop.
“I’ll make it work like I always do,” he said, “but I don’t see any more room in the budget.”
Tessiero disagreed, pointing out the town plans to give $10,000 to Sanford Farm restoration efforts and $18,500 to the city library in 2013, both of which he said should be cut.
“I don’t think people on the street would support a new highway use tax so we could keep funding the Sanford Farm,” he said. “The farm is in good shape right now. I don’t see why it can’t just sit tight for a year.”
He recommends the board scrutinize the budget line by line and cut as much as possible, something he said should have been done years ago.
“This is all nickel-and-dime stuff,” DiMezza said, claiming cutting small expenses won’t add up to what the tax would have brought in.
The town gets most of its money from sales tax, fire tax and various fees, according to DiMezza.
For years, the town has survived without levying a traditional property tax, but sales tax has not yet recovered to 2008 levels, while expenses such as retirement benefits and machinery maintenance have gone up dramatically. He said there is a widening gap that won’t be filled by the $30,000 saved by cutting support for organizations.
Faced with making deeper cuts, he’s worried that next summer one or more of the five highway employees will have to be laid off.
“But it’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “If I lay them off, we’ll only save half their salary because we’ll still be paying unemployment.”
At the town offices on Manny Corners Road, Highway Department employees didn’t seem too worried Thursday.
“We’re all union employees,” said Herb Menge, “so they either pay us or lay us off, though I’d like to see them run the town without us.”
Menge didn’t even hear about the possible tax until it showed up in the media. He was too busy fitting plows to the front of the town trucks.
He and the other four employees are in charge of maintaining 20 miles of town road and plowing 40 more miles of county roads. He said at the moment the eight town trucks are working and not too old, but eventually something will have to change.
“We don’t have a town tax here,” he said, “so people are getting services for free. At some point, we’ll have to pay.”
As for the Sanford Farm, city library and a handful of senior and youth groups the town supports, DiMezza said he won’t support cutting programs that improve the quality of life for town residents. He plans to tell all town department heads not to spend any unnecessary money, “even on pens and pencils.”